Battle for Zendikar: The alternative set review

With yet another spoiler season drawing to a close I wanted to talk a little about Battle for Zendikar. I don’t have the patience for a full blown list of every card (and there are plenty of regulars who would do a far better job of it than I) so I’ve decided to cover a few different categories.

  • The cards I most want to play with.
  • The cards I least want to play against.
  • The cards I most want to get hold of a set of quickly.

The format I play the most is draft but this will lean into the realms of constructed as well.

The cards I most want to play with.

First up I’m very much hoping that I manage, at least once, to pull of a Black/Green Eldrazi Scion sacrifice Deck in limited. There seems to be a reasonable number of options to do this without getting lucky with rares, although I want to start a draft with Brood Butcher.

Another limited deck I’d like to pull off is allies with a hint of lifegain. I’m a great fan of limited decks capable of ending the game on a silly amount of life (I’ve had some 3xKTK Abzan mirror matches ending on 50 or 60) and Lantern Scout strikes me as one capable of pulling that off. The allies deck itself seems pretty fun, but I’m not convinced it wont be the thing that’s fought over in draft (especially given its quite heavily in white and where I play whites often over drafted, although that’s probably just us).

en_2VDtpv4Pu8 en_Yuxp4WpiVBWhen it comes to the properly big stuff…I haven’t actually played in an environment where this kind of thing was particularly viable (I came back to the game around New Phyrexia). From what I head Rise of the Eldrazi was a hell of a format but with the reduced number of Scions vs Spawn and the fact that they’re more combat relevant I don’t know if it will actually be viable to try and cast a ten-drop in limited. That doesn’t mean though that I won’t be giving it a go. I’m rather hoping to get a desolation twin or Ulamog win in somewhere along the line. Here’s hoping for something even bigger and sillier in OGW.

The cards I least want to play against.

There are certain kinds of cards that rub me up the wrong way in draft games. Usually they’ll be things that very rapidly turn a game into something extremely one sided. Sometimes these are overpowered cards, or hard to interact with “if this happens you’re done” cards (recently Sagu Mauler springs to mind). “Bad” cards are just as likely to appear here because magical Christmas land doesn’t look so good from the outside.

First mention goes to a pair of cards which, while not inherently unfair are going to reduce a lot of draft games which could otherwise have been turned around into one sided smash fests. While both of these abilities require the player using them to at least have a board position and preferably a stream of allies but when they DO work it wont be a feel good moment for the player on the defense.


Swarm Surge gives me the same feeling of a game rapidly turning into crap. Given the amount of devoid, colourless and scions around I can see it not being that unreasonable to be utterly blown out by this from a fairly stable board. Although I do want to give this one a try, especially if I can get a scion heavy deck.

The cards I will want to get hold of quickly

With every new set that comes out I always prioritize the same 2 things, before anything fun like planeswalkers and bomby creatures. Lands and removal.

These…whatever the final decision on their name turns out to be…slow-ish fetchable duals…They’re far from exciting (a major theme of this section) but they’re what we have and if we want to play standard we’re playing them. And I doubt an extra fetchable dual will hurt in commander or a lower power cube like mine (once i add fetches of course).

As for man-lands I have a particular liking for the black/white one, especially given I’ll be needing a replacement for Temple of Silence in the warrior tribal deck. Oh yeah and whatever the horrendous Abzan deck of the format is I’m sure it’ll slot straight in.

Then there’s removal, since RTR came out I’ve always focused on getting the better rare removal. Mizzium Mortars, Abrupt Decay, Dreadbore, Hero’s Downfall and similar cards are almost certainly going to get used at some point and most pull their weight through standard and on into commander and cube beyond that.

en_rU0CrkrtQ7“Not quite Hero’s Downfall” is by no means bad. I played Dreadbore plenty, especially in my late beloved Mardu Vampires deck and this has a nice little potential upside to it.

en_m3i8eGb71O“That exact thing there can sod right off” will probably slot into every commander deck I make on the general principle that it will fill in whatever removal void the colour combination lacks. My mono-black demon tribal Ob Nixilis deck immediately springs to mind.

en_PitAVDWBFmSpeaking of Ob Nixilis, it’s Ob Nixilis. This new one doesn’t exactly break new ground, but…well it’s just a huge heaping pile of value on a card. Basically new Ob Nixilis is the card you would design if you wanted to explain the textbook examples of a solid planeswalker. At the absolute minimum he’s card parity, killing a creature or drawing a card to replace itself and if left unchecked will absolutely dominate the game. He isn’t too expensive, he has enough loyalty to survive a lot of pounding and his ultimate will win the game in short order.

en_cWrCnmEiuPOf course there’s a place for creatures too and I’ve taken a liking to Undergrowth Champion, particularly along with Avatar of the Resolute. I’m thinking of attempting to build up either GW +1+1 counters or going into Abzan for Abzan Ascendancy…yes and Siege Rhino. Alternatively you could go all in on mono-green with hardened scales, Managorger Hydra…maybe Den Protector.



There’s a bonus mention here for “All the Eldrazi” as all this colourless goodness is making me crave a 5 colour Eldrazi ramp EDH deck complete with all the Eldrazi legends (because sometimes casual is fun) and Progenitus as commander. All silly, all the time.


Filling this sets desirable uncommon slot is Sylvan Scrying. Not a lot to say but I’ll definitely want to pick up a few.


Also in the desirable uncommon slot is Stasis Snare. While it’s not as universal as O Ring, “exile target creature” is still pretty good. Especially as a sideboard vs anyone unlikely to be able to easily get rid of it.


Scatter to the Winds is another “unexciting but playable” entry. This time “cancel with slight upside” makes a 3/3 in the late game. That’s by no means bad. I was quite happy with Dissolve and Dissipate and they were both fairly slight upsides. I’d happily play a couple of these in a deck that wants them.

And Finally…

Today’s honorable mention, the Battle for Zendikar special award for the card I will most come to resent opening in packs…

It’s a straight up tie…I couldn’t make my mind up between hard to cast, limited targeting mind control and a derpy limited effect enchantment.

prismarray exertinfluence

Granted I might be horribly undervaluing these but…I don’t THINK so.

I’m a little warmer to the other converge cards. Lose 3 and draw 3 is by no means bad and an adjustable Pyroclasm could be cool.

My rampant speculation for the next set is “Red will be pushed”. Every other colour seems to be getting nicer toys in this one so I’m going to go for a playable Chandra and a couple decent burn spells at the lower end (perhaps not a 1R for 3 burn but something to serve as constructed burn filler).